Kaiwhakahauora/Ringa Toi Mamati
This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Animators/digital artists use traditional and digital media, such as drawing, models, photography, and image capture and manipulation software, to create still and moving images for print, web, television or film.
Animators/digital artists who work as freelance workers usually earn
$35K-$146K per year
Animators/digital artists in full-time employment usually earn
$33K-$100K per year
Source: Animation College, 2016; Toybox, 2016; Careers New Zealand research, 2016.
Current job prospects
Pay for animators/digital artists varies depending on skills and experience. Animators/digital artists may be paid differently according to the industry.
Many animators/digital artists are self-employed and work for different companies on particular projects for hourly rates.
- 2D animators/digital artists usually earn between $19 and $48 an hour.
- 3D animators/digital artists usually earn between $17 and $70 an hour.
- Animators/digital artists working on games and web animation can earn between $17 and $38 an hour.
Self-employed animators/digital artists may be paid by the frame/picture. They can earn between 25 cents for a single frame/picture and $25 for 16 frames/pictures (a foot).
Some animators/digital artists are in full-time employment and get an annual salary.
- 2D animators/digital artists usually earn between minimum wage and $64,000 a year.
- 3D animators/digital artists usually earn between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.
- Animators/digital artists that work for advertising companies can earn between minimum wage and over $100,000 a year.
Sources: Animation College, 2016; Toybox, 2016; Careers New Zealand research, 2016.
- PAYE.net.nz website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment New Zealand website - information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Animators/digital artists may do some or all of the following:
- meet with directors, clients or employers and agree on a brief (work plan)
- plan animation and design work for their team
- illustrate books and other print media
- build models, puppets or sets, or hand-draw or paint characters, and give them skin surfaces with texture and colour
- film models and hand-drawn animations
- create 3D mesh wireframes to produce backdrops for 2D and 3D animation scenes
- use computer programs to "rig" characters, giving them skeletons that allow them to be animated
- use computer animation programs to animate characters and objects in 2D or 3D
- direct the filming of motion capture (recording physical movements that are then translated into digital images)
- be involved in hiring and managing staff.
Skills and knowledge
Depending on the media they work with, animators/digital artists need to have:
- drawing, painting and design skills, if they are making models
- animation skills (2D and 3D)
- knowledge of animation software
- an understanding of how people and animals move and express their feelings
- the ability to create different moods and feelings in characters
- knowledge of print, film, television or video game production.
- often work irregular hours and may be required to work evenings and weekends to complete projects
- often work on contracts, which may range from two weeks to two years
- usually work in offices, and may move frequently from location to location on different projects.
What's the job really like?
Computer gamer Simon Dasan was rapt when he got an animator job at New Zealand games company Sidhe. Like many new animators, it took Simon a year to get the job. His showreel was one minute long and took seven months to produce. "I'm proud of the fact that I put the work in myself and was able to break into quite a small team."
Animators need thick skin
"The key to getting animation right is working as a team. You have to have a pretty thick skin as an animator – you get lists of everything that is wrong! But it's for the good of the project."
Creating computer games is not like playing them
"Animation is hard and timing is everything. For instance, I had a character that had to roar and do a shoulder-charge at you. We had to have it fast enough that he could roar, go down and start charging as you drove past, but slow enough that the player could see what he was about to do.
"But I love animation – starting off with a character and getting him doing something, bringing him to life. When I’m working, time just disappears."
To become an animator/digital artist you need to be able to show the quality of your work. You can do this either through a portfolio of work or a website, or a showreel that has a shot list describing what you did in each shot.
Employers usually require you to have one or all of the following:
- experience in a particular type of animation
- experience with particular animation software
- a tertiary qualification such as a Bachelor of Creative Media Production, Bachelor of Design, majoring in visual communication design, or a Diploma in Animation.
- Massey University website - information on the Bachelor of Creative Media Production
- Massey University website - information on visual communication design
- Animation College website - information on animation diplomas
Useful school subjects include computing, graphics, visual arts, biology and technology.
Animators/digital artists need to be:
- creative and imaginative
- disciplined, motivated and good at setting goals
- comfortable promoting themselves and their work
- adaptable and able to accept criticism of their work, particularly when they are new to the job
- able to work well under pressure and to deadlines
- good communicators.
When people start doing animation, they often get bored because they can't come up with awesome stuff right from the start. You could be working just on bouncing balls for months – there are so many animation principles in that. Some people get past that and they go on to be animators. Some people don't, and they stop there.
Useful experience for animators/digital artists includes:
- drawing, life drawing, cartooning or graphic design experience
- experience in film, amateur dramatics or photography
- computer design and drawing experience
- experience in animation software.
What are the chances of getting a job?
Strong competition for entry-level animator/digital artist jobs
Although competition at graduate level is strong, high achievers who can demonstrate excellent skill, independent learning and teamwork will be able to gain employment fairly readily. You can improve your chances of getting work by:
- having professional showreels or websites of your work that target employers' needs
- developing and presenting a positive, knowledgeable, willing, can-do attitude
- gaining work experience while a student through internships, summer scholarships, collaborations, team projects or freelance work
- gaining part-time positions in your chosen industry area
- networking to get your work and name known
- being prepared to adapt to a wide range of tasks and learning new skills rapidly.
Many jobs for animators/digital artists are contract-based rather than permanent
Experienced animators/digital artists are likely to be employed on contracts, rather than in permanent, full-time roles. This is because most jobs tend to be on films, books or other projects, such as large sports and entertainment events, which have a limited production time. These contracts can be a few weeks or up to a year.
New openings for video game animators/designers in New Zealand
New Zealand is experiencing new growth in small entrepreneurial games companies and this is providing opportunities for animators/digital artists. While the few large companies are still active, there are more employment opportunities with smaller companies who are designing for the mobile gaming market.
Types of employers varied
Employers of animators/digital artists include:
- major feature film studios
- television studios
- digital effects companies that create commercials, TV shows, TV and film credits and music videos
- web and mobile game design companies and startups
- publishing companies.
Animators/digital artists may also work as freelancers, or work on contract for companies that offer graphic design, animation and advertising services.
- Hodgkinson, G, undergraduate programme leader, Massey University, Careers New Zealand interview, May 2016.
- Toybox, May 2016.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Statistics New Zealand, 'Screen Industry Survey: 2013/2014', 8 April 2015, (www.stats.govt.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Animators/digital artists may progress into other creative positions that have more responsibility, such as an interactive narrative designer, art director, animation director, or production manager.
Animators/digital artists may move into management or set up their own companies. They may also work as graphic designers.
Last updated 1 June 2017